Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Trouble in Store" by Carol Cox

Carol Cox writes an amusing tale of history and mystery in her latest novel, Trouble in Store.  As both proprietors of an Arizona mercantile have recently passed away, Caleb Nelson inherits the shop, not realizing that his uncle's partner left an heir as well - his cousin, a pretty, young governess who is out of options.  When Melanie arrives, she discovers that although the store has the best selection of goods in town, some things are not necessary - an excessive number of chamber pots, for example, and the dead body on the back stoop.  As Melanie improves the stock and drives Caleb crazy (altering perfection, as it were), they have to deal with the mystery surrounding the dead man and some former deaths that may not have been as innocent as they seemed, especially when each one has a connection to the mercantile.

Trouble in Store  -     
        By: Carol Cox
In the first half of the book the mystery is introduced, but it is largely devoted to Melanie settling in and Caleb trying to get rid of her, prompting some fun sparring and minor disasters.  However, the suspense crescendos from there when they are both suspected of being involved in the murder and the town threatens to organize a vigilante committee.  The novel highlighted just how easy it is to jump to conclusions based on gossip and coincidence - even the main characters had to admit that they suffer overly much suspicion about various townsfolk. 

I was amused and understanding over Melanie's wariness regarding little Levi - after her last disastrous charge who was constantly in mischief and blithely lying his way out, it is no wonder she should be reticent to deal with another active little boy.  Thankfully she is reasonable enough not to let her past experiences blind her to Levi's true personality - an active boy who simply needs more attention, not a malicious, undisciplined liar.  While their relationship is not delved into deeply, it still is sweet to watch them come to an understanding. 

Cox paints a lovely picture of that part of Arizona, highlighting the local fauna and mysterious Pueblo villages high up the cliff walls.  Her appreciation for the scenery is clear, and it comes through effortlessly in her writing, inviting us to share it with her.

Over all, it was a sweet story with a mystery good enough that I did not guess the culprit.  Though there were no major epiphanies or lessons to be learned, the main characters were God-honoring people and enjoyable to get to know.  4 out of 5 stars

As a side note, relating to my hopes and dreams:  Although we do not get to know him as well as Caleb, the competition Will Blake seems an honorable man worthy of being the hero of his own story.  Hopefully there will be a following novel about him!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"The Rose of Winslow Street" by Elizabeth Camden - beautiful all around

What do you do when opposing sides of an issue are both in the right?

What do you do when neither side does what is right?

From the cover to the end of the story, Elizabeth Camden's The Rose of Winslow Street is a gorgeous novel, and no run-of-the-mill romance.  Liberty Sawyer and her professor father are called back from vacation upon a "horde of gypsies" taking over their house.  Displaced from their home, they fight to get back the house that they have lived in for more than twenty years, while Romanians Michael Dobrescu and his family fights to hold onto the house which they inherited from the previous owner.  The town is behind the Sawyers, but the law is forced to uphold the Dobrescus. 

The Rose of Winslow StreetIt is a book full of contradictions.  A strapping, warrior of a man, Michael has spent much of his life fighting in the wars against one oppressor or another, but his passion is raising flowers and making perfumes.  Mirela, a duke's daughter, is wearing secondhand dresses, while the wife of a middle class banker is sporting expensive jewels and suddenly seems to own a fortune.  An inventor never completes an invention to his satisfaction, and thus never patents a one, and Libby, the daughter of a professor, cannot even read. 

Despite the fact that they are officially enemies and in defiance of the hardness of the hearts of the "good christian people" of Colden, Massachusetts, Libby reaches out to the ostracized Dobrescus, forging a close friendship with Michael and a love for his sons.  They still remain opposed as to who should have the house - after all, Libby was raised there and her father put years of work into it, and Michael inherited it from his uncle and it is the only safe haven for him and his family - but in spite of that, they respect each other's opinion and do not let it seriously interfere with their relationship. 

I never could decide which party should have the house, since both are in the right, but both sides do ample wrong.  It is certainly wrong of Michael to just waltz in and take the house by force, and he does not improve matters by destroying all the local roses, but neither is it right to deny a family - especially one with young children - such basic necessities as food!  No one else makes an effort to know the Dobrescus, and yet they are perfectly happy to trash-talk them and boot them out in a storm.

Overall, I was impressed by the novelty of this book, as the plot is quite different from many historical romances.  Largely it is a romance, but with a wee bit of suspense, a wee bit of mystery, and superbly vibrant characters that one can hurt for, hope for, pity, despise, and love.  5 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Fairchild's Lady" by Roseanna M. White

Fairchild's Lady - PDF Download (personal use only)  [Download] -     
        By: Roseanna M. White
The novella sequel to her Ring of Secrets, Roseanna M. White focuses on the unlucky-in-love British officer General Isaac Fairchild.  For anyone who has read Baroness Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel (and subsequent novels), I highly recommend this novella, which sets up and commences the French Revolution.  Like the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, Fairchild knows that trouble is brewing between the citizens and aristocrats of France, and he is on a mission to whisk a woman and her daughter safely to England before revolution breaks out. 

While in Ring of Secrets we glimpsed Fairchild's gentlemanly demeanor and sense of honor, in this novella we see why Fairchild is general material - he is wise, strong, unafraid to fight for right, and able to learn from his mistakes. Though he is an officer and will defend those in his protection with his life, his sorrow over war is very clear.  I found him a man worthy of great respect.

The historical aspects of the novella are intriguing - we glimpse the corrupted morals of the French aristocracy - after all, Julienne is trapped in a betrothal with a cruel and powerful man whose own wife is not yet dead, and it is acceptable! - and the aristocrats' obstinate refusal to believe that anything could change their way of life, even a mere peasant rebellion. 

My main complaint is that it is a novella and not a full length novel.  Admittedly it is one of the best action-packed novellas I have read, and the romance fits the pace of the story, but I feel we miss out on more of the character development, particularly Julienne, since at least we are acquainted with Fairchild from Secrets.  For that, I give it 4 out of 5 stars. 

The Culper Ring:
1. Ring of Secrets
1.5. Fairchild's Lady (novella)
2. Whispers from the Shadows
2.5. "A Hero's Promise" (short story)
3. Circle of Spies